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Pinellas County teacher drowns saving teen in Lake Michigan

Thomas Kenning saved a teen in Lake Michigan
thomas kenning.png
Posted at 10:08 PM, Jun 29, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-30 05:34:35-04

PINELLAS PARK, FLA. — A Pinellas County teacher drowned while on vacation after saving a teen in Lake Michigan.

While Thomas Kenning, 38, was visiting family in Indiana he went to Porter Beach with his daughter, sister, mother and several other family members. Kenning noticed a teen in distress in the water.

His mother, Sharon Kenning, said her son made a quick decision to try and help.

"Tom was standing next to me and I could tell he was wanting to go help and I said don't do it, you're not strong enough swimmer and he hesitated. He took off his hat and handed me his phone and went out," said Sharon Kenning, Thomas's mother.

His family said Thomas was aware of the dangers of the lake. He had coached his 9-year-old daughter about safety in the water before they arrived at the beach.

"He even coached her before we went to the beach on Monday about the safety of the water and us not being able to go in the water. He was fully aware of the danger he was putting himself in," said Laura Saylor, Thomas's sister.

Thomas reached the teen and helped her to safety before going under the water and not resurfacing, according to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. Lifeguards arrived on the scene and recovered his body.

Porter Beach is an unguarded beach and is considered "swim at your own risk."

"It’s kind of a mix of feelings. We feel proud of him. We feel like he’s a hero like Tom always is, but there is a selfish part of us that still wants him here with us," said Saylor.

kenning and family

Thomas taught history at Plato Academy in Pinellas Park. His family said he loved teaching and the environment. He had a master's degree and wrote several books including "Florida's Mangroves: A Slightly Salty History" and "The Unlikely Parks of Tampa Bay: A Scenic History."

"One of the main lessons he taught his kids was how to do critical thinking and not just take what’s fed to you and accept it, to question it and to look into it to see if it’s true," said Thomas's mother.

"He traveled the world to see different cultures and he brought that knowledge back to his students to be able to look at everyone as an equal and that differences were not a bad thing," said Saylor.

The community is raising donations on a GoFundMe page for Thomas's 9-year-old daughter and for nonprofit organizations that he believed in.

His family said their loss will be felt by everyone who knew Thomas, but the biggest void may be felt by his daughter.

"It’s going to be a huge loss for her and she was there she witness this," said Sharon. "He was a very engaged father."